Friday, July 6, 2007

What Does it Mean to be of Service?

At the beginning of summer, my air conditioning broke down. I called a local air conditioning service company to send a technician out to repair the unit. It is a central HVAC unit for the entire house. He recommended replacing it even before laying eyes on it. After some argumentation, he got to work. He cleaned and recharged the unit which got it working again. His hourly rate is $90.

A week later, our air conditioning was broken again. We called and complained enough to get the owner out to make a visit. We thought that what he promised was that he would fix it and not charge for the subsequent service call. He later claimed that he would not charge only if he felt that the original service technician did not do his job correctly.

I was present during the second visit. He opened up the unit and found that the electrical wire from the compressor to the contactor had melted. He replaced the contactor (which had some carbon scoring on it) and he replaced the compressor wire with a thicker wire. The original wire was 14 gauge and he replaced it with a 10 gauge wire. He also charged for the service call with the same hourly rate of $90.

I complained about the charge of the additional service call. The owner claimed that the original technician did nothing wrong. I said that he should have identified that the compressor wire was the wrong gauge. He countered that the incorrect wire was what was originally installed on the unit and not anything that his technician had installed.

Which leads me to this question. What does it mean to be of service? If you claim to be a full service company, then is it enough just to get the unit working long enough to get out the door or do you inspect everything and give your best advice on what is truly needed?

When you take your car in to get an oil change, they don't just change the oil. They change the oil filter. They inspect your tires. They inspect your air filter. They check and fill all fluids, if necessary. If all they did was change your oil, would you be satisfied? Would you feel that you had been served?

Let's pretend that you wanted to add a jacuzzi to your house and called in an electrician to run another power line. The first thing that electrician would do is inspect your breakout box. If it wasn't up to code, then he would tell you so. He would not just run the power line, charge for his time, and hope that the house doesn't catch fire before the check clears.

I presented all this to the owner. He then claimed that he, with thirty years experience, could catch something that subtle but that it was unreasonable to expect the technician, with only six months experience, to catch the problem that my air conditioning had. Is it OK to claim to be of service but to use under-qualified or under-trained people? Where is the standard of excellence here? At the very least, he should charge a different hourly rate for trainees.

What do you think? What does it mean to be of service?


Brian said...

Hmm... I don't think there are any standards; this is a big gray area. Keep in mind that often people just want someone to fix the problem and don't appreciate it when a mechanic points out other things that need to be fixed; it seems to them like they're trying to find "unnecessary" things to charge more money for. If someone had pointed out that the wire was substandard before it actually caused a problem, would you have done anything about it if it cost more money?

Also, when you pay for an oil change, they inspect certain things but it's far from a full inspection of your car, like you would get if you were buying one.

Plone Glenn said...

If someone had pointed out that the wire was substandard before it actually caused a problem, would you have done anything about it if it cost more money? Yes, because the price of replacing a wire is nothing compared to the price of paying for another service call.